A trip to the mountains is going to be different this winter. There’s no use pretending otherwise.
Just like everything else in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the experience of visiting ski and snowboard areas across Western Canada.
There’s some good news, though. We’re all used to wearing face masks by now, and yeah, they’re going to be required when you’re on a lift or waiting in line to ride one. You’ll need to wear one anytime you’re indoors, too. No big deal, right? We’ve all been doing that for months.
There will be some other adjustments, too, but once you’re out on the mountain and racing down your favourite run? Well, COVID-19 can’t take away from the immeasurable joy you feel. Social distancing sort of comes naturally when you’re on skis or a snowboard and those acres upon acres of wide-open alpine space are good for the body, mind and soul.
Even in lift lines, resorts aren’t expecting there to be any major issues with social distancing.
“Our research into the southern hemisphere shows that, essentially, tip-to-tail works in a lift line,” said Dale Oviatt, senior manager of communications at Winsport. “The distance between the back of the ski and the person in front of you is pretty much six feet, anyway, so there’s a natural distancing that does go on in lift lines, which is nice.”
Reports this summer suggested that Albertans flocked to mountain communities, and representatives at several ski resorts in the province and eastern-B.C. said that early-season ticket purchases indicate something similar may happen this winter.
Fortunately, ski resorts across the country came together to create a set of best practices through the Canadian Ski Council, while regionally, the Canada West Ski Areas Association developed standards for gondolas and areas where face coverings should be mandatory.
“We’re striving to build the best plan possible for safety, but we’re also working in collaboration with the applicable health authorities in B.C. and Alberta. We want to ensure the longevity of the ski season. I think people are going to want to get as many turns as possible this season,” said Matt Mosteller, senior vice-president of marketing and resort experience at RCR.
“I think that (skiing and snowboarding) will provide that perfect outlet for getting outside in winter when there are fewer options. People will need activities this winter more than ever. So winter outside, wide-open ski runs and it provides that healthy mix of fresh air and physical activity.”
While mandatory face coverings in lineups, indoors and on lifts should be expected everywhere, each resort has some areas where they are taking their own approach. Many, but not all, ski areas are not selling lift tickets on-site, for example.
As always, it’s also worth remembering that guidelines and regulations governing the spread of COVID-19 are ever-changing, so it is incumbent on all guests to check what safety measures are being taken before heading to the mountains for a ski day.
CANADA OLYMPIC PARK
Adult lift ticket: TBA
Opening Date: Nov. 27
COVID changes: Winsport got a headstart on understanding how to safely operate this winter when they were able to relaunch their mountain bike summer camps and arena operations. The Calgary hill won’t be selling day tickets until the season actually gets underway, but it has a strict set of protocols for guests. There will be no spectators or foot traffic on the hill this year and face-coverings will be required in all indoor facilities and common outdoor areas. The protocols may change as the winter progresses, so it’s worth checking online before visiting.
On Twitter: @WinsportCanada
Adult lift ticket: $99.95
Opening Date: Dec. 4
COVID changes: Like every resort, you’re going to need to wear a face-covering while you wait in lift lines at Castle Mountain or when you enter any of their indoor facilities. The Southern Alberta resort isn’t anticipating having to place limitations on daily ticket sales, but that could change and they are currently upgrading their online ticketing platform to make it easier to buy lift tickets in advance.
Looking for a deal: Castle’s Wonder of Winter Card is a no-brainer for anyone who plans on visiting the resort – which is only 2.5 hours from Calgary – more than once this season. The card only sets you back $84.95 and gets you unlimited 50 per cent off days throughout the season, with no blackouts.
On Twitter: @SkiCastle
Adult lift ticket: TBA
Opening Date: Nov. 6
COVID changes: Unlike most Alberta resorts, you’re going to need to book ahead if you’re planning on spending the day at Nakiska and aren’t a season-pass holder. The Kananaskis resort is part of the Resorts of the Canadian Rockies company and, because of that, day tickets need to be purchased in advance and online. Nakiska will not be selling lift tickets at the resort. There will be all the other expected precautions, as well, including face-coverings required in lift lines and indoors and limits on how many people can be in the day lodge at one time.
Ever-improving: Because Nakiska is so close, it can be tempting to look at the weather outside and assume it’s similar at the Kananaskis mountain. That would be a mistake. Nakiska has incredible snowmaking capabilities and added more capacity and snowmaking guns this year. This year’s October cold snap meant they could get working early, too, so expect lots of coverage across the mountain early in the season.
On Twitter: @SkiNakiska
Adult lift ticket: $93
Opening Date: Oct. 24
COVID changes: If you’re planning on spending a magical day on the mountain at Norquay, you’re going to need to book your ticket ahead of time. Tickets won’t be sold at the resort for either tubing or skiing. There will also be reduced capacity at lodges, no daycare this season and face-coverings will be required on lifts and in lines.
Terrific tubing: They take their tubing seriously at Mount Norquay. The resort’s eight-lane tube park has a purpose-built magic carpet system and its own lodge, making it perfect for families where not everyone loves skiing or snowboarding. Like the rest of the mountain, though, guests who want to use the tubing park need to book their tickets in advance online and the resort will limit capacity to 200 tubers at a time.
Adult lift ticket: $127
Opening Date: Nov. 6
COVID changes: If you’re riding a lift or waiting in line at Sunshine Village, you’re going to need a face-covering. The Banff resort will be loading its gondola with up to eight passengers on busy days but will be implementing an enhanced disinfecting procedure for the interiors of the cabins and insisting on face-coverings for the duration of the ride and that cabin windows stay open. You can expect more grab-and-go options for food and Sunshine is planning on adding temporary tent dining facilities and restrooms to assist with extra seating throughout the resort. The top floor of the Old Village Gondola Station has also been transformed into a heated picnic area for guests and the resort is encouraging guests to pack their own food.
Stay the night: It’s easy to get to and from Sunshine in a day for Calgarians, but that doesn’t mean you have to head home after a day on the mountain. The Sunshine Mountain Lodge offers the only ski-in, ski-out accommodation in the Banff area and has added enhanced safety measures to help make a night on the mountain more safe and comfortable.
What’s the deal: The Sunshine Super Card is absolutely worth buying for skiers and snowboarders who know they’ll be making lots of trips to the mountain. For only $99, the card gets you on the mountain for free for your first, fourth and seventh visits and gets additional savings on all other visits.
On Twitter: @SkiBanff
Adult lift ticket: $124
Opening Date: Oct. 29
COVID changes: Expect to practise physical distancing, use your car for storing extra gear and wear face-coverings when you’re indoors, in lineups or on lifts and gondolas. While Lake Louise will be decreasing its capacity in lodges, it will also be adding temporary structures for guests to eat in and warm up, as well as additional washroom facilities.
Getting bigger: Lake Louise has always been a massive resort, but for the first time in 25 years, there is new inbound terrain to explore. The Banff National Park resort has added 480 acres of new terrain with the opening of West Bowl, which is accessible from the new Summit Chair and it promises more laps of powder bowls, gladed areas and lots of and lots of deep snow.
Looking for a deal: The Lake Louise Plus Card is $99 and gets you a free lift ticket on your first, fourth and seventh visits to the resort, as well as Castle Mountain, Panorama, RED Mountain and Schweitzer.
On Twitter: @SkiLouise
Adult lift ticket: $105
Opening Date: Nov. 12
COVID changes: The good people at Marmot Basin are encouraging guests to book their lift tickets online and in advance. You’ll still be able to purchase tickets at the Jasper resort, but it’s easier and safer to deal with it beforehand. Face-coverings are required indoors, on lifts, in lineups and during lessons, and there will be temporary structures around the ski area to help ease capacity at the lodge.
What’s the deal?: Honestly, if you’re planning on visiting Marmot Basin more than once this winter, it’s worth picking up an Escape Card. It only sets you back $82.95 and gets you 50 per cent off lift tickets all season long, as well as significant discounts around Jasper.
On Twitter: @SkiMarmot
Adult lift ticket: TBA
Opening Date: Dec. 11
COVID changes: Chances are, you’re not waking up on a Saturday morning and just deciding to drive out to Golden, B.C., for the day. A trip to Kicking Horse is generally something you plan before you go, and that’s a good thing because the resort will be requiring guests to book their lift tickets online and in advance. Gondolas will also be treated with an anti-microbial coating and can be loaded to capacity as long as it’s all people from one family unit or cohort. Expect physical distancing and mandatory face-coverings indoors, on lifts and in lineups.
Stay a bit longer: With the ability to load up the gondola with your family or cohort, it’s worth looking into renting one of Kicking Horse’s many on-mountain accommodation options. The Glacier Mountaineer and Palliser lodges provide great ski-in, ski-out condo options, and there are lots of vacation homes offering deals for multi-night stays, as well.
On Twitter: @KickingHorseMTN
Adult lift ticket: $104
Opening Date: Nov. 26
COVID changes: Big White is going cashless. That means that the only way you can buy a lift ticket is if you purchase it online and in advance, but also that they will only be accepting debit or credit as payment forms for any purchase around the resort. There are lots of other precautions being taken, as well. Face-coverings will be required in public buildings and from the time you get in line for a lift until the time you’ve safely unloaded, and gondolas will be sanitized on an hourly schedule using an electrostatic fogging machine that won’t cause any interruption.
What’s the deal: Realistically, if Albertans are headed to Kelowna to ski, they’re going to be staying over for at least a night. Luckily, Big White has a tonne of accommodation deals right now, including getting a fourth night free when you book for three nights on the mountain and 25 per cent off early season deals.
On Twitter: @BigWhite
Adult lift ticket: $128
Opening Date: Dec. 11
COVID changes: The plan at Panorama is for the whole mountain – every lift and run – to be open once operations get underway and conditions allow it. Like a lot of resorts, Panorama won’t be selling walk-up tickets on the mountain. You have to book online and in advance. Once you’re at the Invermere, B.C., resort and ready to take on its sweet slopes, you’re going to need to wear a face-covering while in lineups and on lifts.
Go big: A couple of years ago, Panorama opened up a huge area of new terrain that’s accessible through the Monster-X Cat. The 126 acres of steep, epic terrain is still going to be open this year, so skiers and snowboarders can still test themselves on nine double-black lines in and around Taynton Bowl.
On Twitter: @panoramaresort
Adult lift ticket: $139
Opening Date: Nov. 27
COVID changes: If you’re going to Revelstoke, you’re going to need to have your lift ticket booked online and in advance, and the B.C. resort is also ensuring that tickets for every single activity on the mountain can be pre-purchased online, too. There will be lots of other changes, too, all made to keep guests safe. They include having all gondola surfaces coated with antimicrobial coatings, reduced seating at indoor areas, mandatory face-coverings in lineups and on lifts and lots of social distancing.
Looking for a deal: Revelstoke is the type of place people tend to want to visit a couple of times every season. The snow is just that deep. If you know that’s going to be your move, it’s worth buying a Vertical Card early. You can get the card with one, three, five or 10 days pre-loaded and it allows you to save up to $54 off the regular one-day adult ticket rate and get discounts on lodging, rentals, repairs and the snow school.
On Twitter: @revelstokemtn
Adult lift ticket: TBA
Opening Date: Dec. 5
COVID changes: Like the rest of the ski and snowboard areas that are owned and operated by the Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, Fernie won’t be selling tickets on-site. You have to book online and in-advance. You’re going to need to wear face coverings when you’re in line or on a lift, and there will be separate lines for family bubbles, individuals and those willing to ride with other people. Indoor space will be limited, too, and you won’t be able to store your bags inside.
Stay the night: There are few ski-in, ski-out destinations quite like Fernie. Whether you’re staying at the hotel-style Fernie Slopeside Lodge or pampering yourself at the Lizard Creek Lodge, the B.C. resort has a lot of deals right now that offer major savings on one-of-a-kind vacations. Consider staying midweek, too, where you can find some serious deals and wake up knowing there will be smaller crowds.
On Twitter: @SkiFernie
Adult lift ticket: TBA
Opening Date: Dec. 12
COVID changes: If you’re reading this, you’re probably older than two-years-old. That means you need to wear a face-covering if you’re walking around Kimberley’s public spaces, are inside a building, in line or riding a lift or taking a lesson. There will be plenty of signage helping make sure guests follow the government’s health and safety guidelines and you’ll need to buy lift tickets online before you arrive at the resort.
It’s back: For years, Telegraph was one of many skiers’ favourite runs at Kimberley, but 15 years ago the pine beetle meant the run was lost. This year, thanks to some creative work by the brush crew, Telegraph is back and ready for skiers and snowboarders. The Cranbrook, B.C., resort already has more gladed terrain than you’ll find anywhere else in the Rockies, and Telegraph’s return will provide a nostalgic thrill for skiers and snowboarders.
On Twitter: @SkiKimberley
SILVER STAR MOUNTAIN RESORT
Adult lift ticket: $109
Opening date: Dec. 4
COVID changes: Silver Star will be limiting the number of people it allows on the mountain at one time, although a final decision hasn’t yet been made on whether there will be single-day lift tickets available to purchase on-mountain. But you will have to reserve a parking spot and there will be physical distancing requirements in lift tickets. Guests are also going to need to wear face-coverings if they’re riding a shuttle, in line or on a chairlift or inside any facility when you’re not seated. To begin the season, at least, only private lessons for related-parties of up to five people will be offered.
Deal/New: Not every member of every family is going to love skiing or snowboarding. Don’t worry, though, Silver Star has you covered. The Vernon, B.C., resort has a lot of winter sports options for guests. Want to go fat biking? Silver Star’s got you. Snowshoeing? That, too. Cross country skiing? Yep, Silver Star’s got that, as well.
On Twitter: @SilverstarMR
Adult lift ticket: $115
Opening Date: Nov. 21
COVID changes: You don’t absolutely, 100 per cent need to buy a lift ticket in advance if you’re going to spend the day ripping down Sun Peaks’ runs, but they do recommend it because they’ll be limiting capacity. As you’d expect, face-coverings are required in lift lines, on chairlifts and any time you’re not seated at an indoor dining facility and there will be no indoor storage of your personal belongings this year.
Get in on it: For skiers and snowboarders who want to explore as many mountains as possible this winter, the Mountain Collective Pass is pretty much perfect. The pass gets you two days at 23 different iconic alpine destinations around the world, and while skiing internationally might be pretty tough this year, Sun Peaks Resort is one of five Western Canadian resorts that are included – Sunshine, Lake Louise, Panorama and Revelstoke are the others.
On Twitter: @SunPeaksResort
Adult lift ticket: $139
Opening date: Nov. 26
COVID changes: This really shouldn’t be an issue for Albertans who are making the trip to the West Coast, but if you’re visiting Whistler-Blackcomb you need to buy a lift ticket online and in advance. They’re not selling them on-site, so you need to plan ahead (which you were probably doing anyway if you were heading all the way there). You’re going to need your face-covering, too.
Get in on it: If you’re going to visit Whistler, it may be worth looking into the EPIC Pass, which gets you access to ski and snowboard areas around the world. That might not be super helpful in a year where international travel is tough to do, but the Resorts of the Canadian Rockies ski areas are included. That means you can get your days in at Whistler-Blackcomb and also get seven total days at Fernie, Kicking Horse, Kimberley and Nakiska.
On Twitter: @WhistlerBlackcmb